The 2014 season is now one-third of the way complete. Well, technically it’s one-third plus one game complete for the Yankees. They played their 54th game of the season on Saturday, and through that game they were on pace to go 87-75 with a -30 run differential. There is still a pretty big disconnect between the win-loss record and run differential this time of year. The relationship usually doesn’t start to stabilize until the All-Star break or so, according to Russell Carleton.
Anyway, as is the case every year, the Yankees have had some players or parts of their game be a pleasant surprise this season. There have also been some disappointments as well. That’s just baseball. Things don’t always go according to plan, both for better and worse. So, with all that in mind, let’s review the Yankees’ biggest surprises and disappointments at the one-third (plus one game) point of the 2014 season.
Surprise: Yangervis Solarte
I can’t imagine anyone doesn’t consider Solarte a massive surprise this year. Even if you totally bought into his excellent Spring Training, I still don’t think you could have reasonably expected a .294/.363/.458 (127 wRC+) batting line through the first third of the season. How could you? This is best case scenario stuff. Solarte is not a total fluke either — he has a not outrageous .305 BABIP and is a high contact switch-hitter hitter with a solid approach (23/20 K/BB). That’s a good recipe for success. The infield was pretty unsettled coming into the season, but Solarte has emerged as a legitimate everyday player and a much-needed above-average bat to lengthen the lineup.
Disappointment: Hiroki Kuroda
Maybe Kuroda’s shaky start to the season shouldn’t be much of a surprise given his age (39) and the way he closed out last season (terribly). His 4.57 ERA is by far a career-high — he’s also allowed seven unearned runs because of the lol defense — yet his peripheral stats are right in line with recent years. Check it out:
There’s nothing really crazy going on there. The biggest difference between Kuroda this year and Kuroda the last two years might be that he is throwing too many pitches in the strike zone, which would explain the jump in BABIP. More balls in the zone means more strikes to hit. (The shaky infield defense would explain that too.) Anecdotally, Kuroda has really struggled with his slider and to a lesser extent his splitter. When he misses, he’s missed out over the plate and the ball gets hit hard. When he’s going well, Kuroda lives on the edges and manages contact, meaning lots of weak pop-ups and grounders. Now he’s missing his spots and those pop-ups are line drives. I don’t know if it’s an age thing or a mechanical thing or something else entirely. Whatever it is, it’s made Kuroda part of the problem for the first third of the season.
Surprise: Masahiro Tanaka
Man, how great has Tanaka been? He has taken over as the undisputed staff ace and has legitimately been one of the very best starters in all of baseball. I mean, the Yankees didn’t invest $175M in him because they thought he would be a solid mid-rotation workhorse, they expected him to be an ace. But this good, this soon? An adjustment period to life in the big leagues (and a new country) would have been totally normal.
Instead, Tanaka has been elite (2.06 ERA and 2.52 FIP), with excellent strikeout (10.07 K/9 and 28.7 K%), walk (1.37 BB/9 and 3.9 BB%), and ground ball (48.0%) rates. After allowing seven homers in his first six starts, he’s allowed zero long balls in his last five starts. Tanaka’s splitter has been as advertised (49.2% whiff rate!), ditto his toughness and poise. Dude is a stone cold killer on the mound. I expected Tanaka to be very good this year, but not this good.
Disappointment: Brian McCann
Yeah, he’s been much better over the last three weeks or so, but the Yankees absolutely did not expect a .229/.292/.380 (84 wRC+) batting line out of McCann when they agreed to give him $85M over five years. The homers have been there (seven so far), the other base hits (career-low .233 BABIP) and walks (6.7%, worst in seven years) have not. I’ve thought McCann was pressing more than anything — he is hitting .269/.363/.434 with an 11/9 K/BB in 21 games dating back to the start of the Brewers series, for what it’s worth — and it really isn’t ridiculous to think a guy who changed leagues and had to learn a new pitching staff needed a few weeks to adjust. McCann is trending in the right direction, but he was a negative in the first third of the season, there’s no doubt about it.
Surprise: Dominant Setup Crew
I had no concerns about David Robertson taking over the ninth inning, and yesterday’s total meltdown notwithstanding, he’s been pretty awesome as the closer. Getting the ball from the starters to Robertson looked like it might be something of a challenge when Spring Training opened, but, as has been the case the last few seasons under Joe Girardi‘s watch, setup men have stepped forward.
Dellin Betances has been unreal, with a 1.38 ERA (0.86 FIP) and a 46.7% strikeout rate in 32.2 innings. I love that Girardi has been using him as a multi-inning setup man (I just wish it wasn’t every other day, fatigue in the second half could be a problem) and effectively turning it into a six or sometimes even five-inning game. Adam Warren has not been quite as dominant as Betances, but a 1.71 ERA (2.34 FIP) with a 23.8% strikeout rate in 31.2 innings plays just fine. Shawn Kelley had 3.52 ERA (2.35 FIP) and a 25.0% strikeout rate in 15.1 innings before hurting his back as well.
Given the lack of offense and generally short outings from the non-Tanaka starters, the setup crew has been super important this season and they have been dynamite. Getting Kelley back will allow Girardi to spread the workload around a little more, which should make them even more effective.
Disappointment: Injuries, Again
The Yankees, once again, dealt with several injuries to key players. Some of them, like Michael Pineda going down with a shoulder issue and Mark Teixeira dealing with nagging wrist soreness, should not be surprising at all. They’re coming off surgery and complications come with the territory. Others, like Ivan Nova blowing out his elbow or Carlos Beltran developing (or, really, aggravating an existing) bone spur in his elbow, kinda popped up out of nowhere.
The injuries have stretched the Yankees thin and exposed their lack of offensive depth — they had four guys (Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian Roberts, Ichiro Suzuki) in the lineup yesterday who have spent the majority of their careers as leadoff hitters, and that doesn’t include long-time number two hitter Derek Jeter either — as well as forced them to play guys out of position. I mean, 21 games at first base for Kelly Johnson? Really? Injuries are part of the game and no one is going to feel bad for the Yankees. But these are real problems they have to overcome. Again.
Surprise: The AL East Sucks
Overall, the Yankees have been pretty mediocre this season. Let’s call a spade a spade here. At the same time, the AL East as a whole has been mediocre as well. The Blue Jays have been the best team in the division by a decent margin with a 34-24 record and a +34 run differential. The other four teams are 107-116 with a -65 run differential combined. The Rays are especially terrible. They’re a half-game worse than the Astros (!) at 23-34 with a -38 run differential. Can you believe that?
The Yankees are only 3.5 games back of Toronto, which is nothing with two-thirds of the season to go. They still have five head-to-head series to play. There does not appear to be that one great team that will run away with the division, which means New York’s general mediocrity will not sink them over the summer. This division could be decided by which team gets the most impact from a call-up or makes the best (not necessarily the biggest or the most) moves at the trade deadline.
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Some aspects of the Yankees are not surprising and have played out exactly as expected. The bad infield defense and general lack of power, for example. Gardner again being totally awesome and one of the most unheralded players in the league is another one. The Yankees are a flawed team and there is no argument to be made against that. They are also a flawed team in an eminently winnable division full of flawed teams. The first third of the season revealed some very real cracks in the dam. The second third is for fixing those cracks and putting the club in the best position to make a run at a postseason berth, AL East title or otherwise.
Record Last Week: 3-3 (19 RS, 28 RA)
Season Record: 29-26 (230 RS, 245 RA, 26-29 pythag. record)
Opponents This Week: vs. Mariners (one game, Mon.) vs. Athletics (three games, Tues. to Thurs.), @ Royals (three games, Fri. to Sun.)
Top stories from last week:
- The week started with three games against the Cardinals in St. Louis. The Yankees took the opener in extra innings but were shut out in the second game. Lots of offense led to a win in Wednesday’s series finale.
- Following Thursday’s off-day, the Twins came to town for a three-game weekend series. The offense was a no-show in Friday’s loss, then Masahiro Tanaka dominated in the win the next day. David Robertson blew a save and melted down in yesterday’s loss.
- Injury Updates: CC Sabathia (knee) had a checkup and is progressing well. Mark Texeira (wrist) received a cortisone shot and will be re-evaluated Tuesday. Carlos Beltran (elbow) traveled to Tampa yesterday and will begin playing in minor league rehab games. Michael Pineda (shoulder) suffered a setback. He will be shut down for at least ten days with inflammation. Shawn Kelley (back) threw a bullpen session. Slade Heathcott (knee) was placed on the Double-A Trenton DL. Ramon Flores (ankle) is going to miss about a month according to his agent.
- Hal Steinbrenner and other members of the team’s hierarchy are interested in signing Kendrys Morales.
- Derek Jeter and Jacoby Ellsbury are among the top All-Star Game vote-getters at their positions.
Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.
Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
The video above is C Gary Sanchez‘s two-run homer from last night’s game. I enjoy that he has a Marcus Thamesian bat flip (0:50 mark). It’s no coincidence that Thames is Double-A Trenton’s hitting coach, right? I like to think not.
Triple-A Scranton (9-7 loss to Indianapolis)
- 2B-LF Jose Pirela: 5-6, 2 R, 2 2B, 1 3B, 3 RBI, 1 K — 12-for-32 (.375) in his last six games
- LF Ramon Flores: 1-1 – beat out an infield single in the first inning and was immediately lifted for a pinch-runner, his agent says he suffered an ankle injury and will miss about a month … ouch
- 3B Scott Sizemore: 1-5, 1 RBI, 1 K
- RF Adonis Garcia: 2-5, 1 R, 1 2B, RBI, 1 K
- SS Zelous Wheeler: 0-4, 1 R, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 E (fielding) – the error led to three runs in the eighth
- C Austin Romine: 0-3, 1 R, 2 BB, 1 K
- RHP Bruce Billings: 3 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 1/3 GB/FB — 39 of 62 pitches were strikes (63%) … picked a runner off second
- RHP Jose Ramirez: 3 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 3/0 GB/FB — 27 of 44 pitches were strikes (61%) … 13/6 K/BB in 10.2 innings
- RHP Mark Montgomery: 1.1 IP, 2 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 1/2 GB/FB — 18 of 28 pitches were strikes (64%) … 17 walks in 24.1 innings
Carlos Beltran is traveling to Tampa this evening and will play in Extended Spring Training games on Monday and Tuesday, Joe Girardi announced following this afternoon’s game. “We’ll just go day by day to see where’s at and how his at-bats are, and when they deem that he’s ready, we’ll have him back,” said the manager. “I don’t imagine that it’s going to be real long. I would hope that we’ll see him soon here.”
ExST is very informal and Beltran will be able to get a ton of at-bats the next two days. He can lead off every inning, for example. Assuming these next two days go well, he’ll probably play in a minor league rehab game or two with one of the affiliates. Looking at the upcoming schedule, maybe he’ll be ready to rejoin the team at the end of the homestand on Thursday, before they travel to Kansas City. So far the elbow is holding up well and that’s important. The Yankees really need his bat in the lineup. · (0) ·
Here is your open thread for the last few hours of the weekend. Yesterday’s weather kinda stunk but it was gorgeous today here in New York. The ESPN Sunday Night Game is the Pirates at the Dodgers (Volquez vs. Greinke), plus the Kings and Blackhawks are playing Game Seven (8pm ET on NBCSN) to determine who will face the (hockey) Rangers in the Stanley Cup Finals, so that’s fun. Talk about this afternoon’s game, either of tonight’s games, or anything else right here. Have at it.
What looked like a nice and tidy 2-1 win to take Sunday’s game from the Twins turned into a revenge-fueled 7-2 loss in a hurry. With the help of a pair of former Yankees, Minnesota grabbed the series finale and sent the Bombers home with a hard to swallow loss.
Bad Ninth Inning
bottom top of the ninth might have been the worst inning of the season to date. The Yankees nursed a one-run lead for four innings before handing the ball off to David Robertson, who promptly allowed a game-tying solo homer to Josh Willingham on his very first pitch. No mystery here, it was just a bad pitch up in the zone. The blown save was Robertson’s second of the season, joining the Adam Dunn walk-off homer in Chicago a week ago.
Blowing the lead was bad enough, but then the Twins piled on for five more runs in that ninth inning. Robertson alternated strikeouts and walks the next four batters, putting two on with two outs. He left another pitch up in the zone to All-Star-to-be Brian Dozier, who tomahawked it down the left field line for a go-ahead double. Robertson issued an intentional walk to Joe Mauer and was pulled from the game. He was all over the place and it looks like he could use a few days off after being asked to get all those four-out saves the last few weeks.
Matt Daley replaced Robertson, threw one pitch, and allowed a two-run double to ex-Yankee Eduardo Nunez. Nothing quite like getting beat by Eduardo Scissorhands, huh? In came Matt Thornton to face the lefty swinging Oswaldo Arcia, and he allowed a two-run single to center. The Twins scored six runs in the inning including five with two outs. Robertson was charged with four of those runs, so he went from a 2.08 ERA to a 4.50 ERA in an afternoon. It’ll take him all season to work that outing off.
Three Hits In Phil’s Return
Phil Hughes pitched very well in his return to Yankee Stadium. Certainly better than he did at any point in the Bronx over the last few years. He held the Yankees to three hits and all three came consecutively: Brett Gardner tripled off the right field wall to lead off the fourth, Derek Jeter lined a Jeterian single to right to score the run, then Jacoby Ellsbury followed with another single to put runners on the corners. Ichiro Suzuki later plated Jeter with a sacrifice fly.
Four of the six batters who put the ball in play in that fourth inning did so within the first three pitches of the at-bat. Hughes has always been a guy who gets ahead in the count with his fastball — his percentage of 0-2 counts last year was the second highest in baseball behind Cliff Lee, for example — and the Yankees took advantage by jumping on fastballs early in the count. It worked very well in that fourth inning after the lineup turned over, but not much after that.
Following Brian McCann‘s walk to load the bases in the fourth (more on that later), Hughes settled down and retired the final 15 men he faced. His final line was those two runs on three hits and two walks in eight innings. Caleb Thielbar retired the side in order in the ninth, so the final 18 batters the Yankees sent to the plate made outs. New York scored six runs in the three-game series and Minnesota started two pitchers who had the two highest ERAs in baseball (Ricky Nolasco and Kevin Correia). Impressive stuff.
Whitley’s Yankee Stadium Debut
For the first time in his brief Major League career, Chase Whitley faced a lineup with a DH on Sunday afternoon. His first three starts came on the road against the Mets, the Cubs, and the Cardinals. The extra hitter didn’t seem to bother Whitley at all — he held the Twins to one run in five innings of work, which is more or less the norm for him so far in his career. Five hits (all singles) and no walks with six strikeouts in those five innings.
The Twins scored that one run in the third inning because, well, the infield defense stinks. It’s a factor every game. A ground ball two steps to Jeter’s right scooted by for a leadoff single, Brian Roberts muffed a potential double play ball and was only able to get the out at first, then Trevor Plouffe hit a legitimate single to left to score Aaron Hicks from second with two outs. This defense, man. Whitley shook it off and retired nine of the final 12 men he faced, and one of the three exceptions was an infield single off that bounced in and out of Yangervis Solarte‘s glove. There’s that defense again. Whitely only threw 83 pitches and it’s pretty clear the Yankees don’t want him going through the opposing lineup a third time. That’s fine, five innings of one-run ball from the eighth starter is cool with me.
The top four hitters in the lineup went a combined 3-for-14 with two walks. The bottom five went 0-for-14. Yuck. McCann is starting to draw some walks (two in this game, seven in his last 12 games) and looks way more comfortable at the plate lately. It’s almost like adjusting to a new league and having to learn an entirely new pitching staff hurt his offense for a few weeks.
Betances retired all six batters he faced in the sixth and seventh innings, five on strikeouts and one on a weak ground ball to third. Typical Dellin, really. I was hoping Joe Girardi would send him back out for the eighth because a) he had only thrown 22 low-stress pitches, and b) he is probably going to try to stay away from Betances on Monday anyway, so why not maximize this outing? Alas. Adam Warren pitched around a two-out ground rule double in the eighth before Robertson imploded in the ninth.
Gardner dove head-first into first base with two outs in the eighth inning. Hustle is great but that is such a dangerous and unnecessary play. The Yankees challenged the close call, which was upheld. I’m going to pretend the review crew in midtown ruled Gardner out on principle for sliding head-first into first.
McCann ended Hughes’ walk-less streak at 179 batters, 45.2 innings, and six starts. As best I can tell, that is the longest an AL pitcher has gone between walks since former Twin Brad Radke in 2005 (191 batters). Twins pitchers, man.
Robinson Cano and the Mariners come back to town for a quick little one-game series on Monday night. That is the makeup game of last month’s rainout, which I’m sure you remember. David Phelps will be on the mound against Felix Hernandez. Of course it’s Felix. RAB Tickets can get you in the door if you want to catch that game or any of the other three games left on the homestand.
I swear, it feels like just yesterday I was sitting in the loge boxes watching Phil Hughes make his Major League debut against (A.J. Burnett and) the Blue Jays. Other than Phil’s start, the one thing I remember most about that night was Matt Stairs taking batting practice. Most guys will try to work on things during BP, like hitting to all fields or whatever, but Stairs just loaded up and tried to yank the ball down the line and into the upper deck. It was pretty awesome, but I digress.
Hughes rode the career roller coaster with the Yankees. He was a first round pick, a super-hyped prospect, a budding ace, injured, an elite setup man, a World Series champion, an All-Star starter, injured again, an okay starter, injured yet again, and a replacement level starter. There were definitely some awesome moments and some not so awesome moments as well. The near no-hitter/blown hamstring game feels like a microcosm of his career, so much excitement and potential but ultimately disappointment. Hughes wasn’t a bust for the Yankees (Andrew Brackman, now that’s a bust) but he sure was disappointing.
Phil returns to Yankee Stadium this afternoon as a member of the Twins. The big ballpark in the Bronx was no doubt a terrible fit for his fly ball style, and while moving into spacious Target Field accounts for some of his success this year (3.23 ERA and 2.61 FIP), Hughes has also adopted an ultra-aggressive approach, perhaps at the urging of the pitch-to-contact-loving Twins staff. He has not walked a batter in his last 44.2 innings, a span of 175 batters faced. He has not walked a hitter in each of his last six starts, the longest such streak in baseball since Stephen Strasburg did it in six straight in 2011. He deserves a lot of credit for that.
I so badly wanted Hughes to succeed as a starter with the Yankees, but it didn’t happen. Now I hope they crush him today like I hope they crush every pitcher every day. The page has turned and he’s wearing the wrong uniform. That’s baseball. Here is the Twins lineup and here is the Yankees lineup:
- LF Brett Gardner
- SS Derek Jeter
- CF Jacoby Ellsbury
- C Brian McCann
- 3B Yangervis Solarte
- RF Ichiro Suzuki
- 2B Brian Roberts
- 1B Kelly Johnson
- DH Zoilo Almonte
RHP Chase Whitley
It is gorgeous in New York today. Blue skies, barely any clouds, and no rain in the forecast. Perfect day to win a series. This afternoon’s game is scheduled to begin a little after 1pm ET and can be seen on YES. Enjoy.
Michael Pineda Update: Pineda (shoulder) will be shut down for at least ten days before he resumes throwing. Based on that, it seems like the absolutely earliest he will return is the first week of July, right before the All-Star break.
Via Jon Heyman: Hal Steinbrenner and several other members of the Yankees’ hierarchy have interest in signing Kendrys Morales. I assume that interest only increased when Mark Teixeira left yesterday’s game with more wrist soreness and received a cortisone shot. Hal has already indicated a willingness to add payroll to improve the team at midseason.
Morales, 30, hit .277/.336/.449 (116 wRC+) with 23 homers for the Mariners last year, and his switch-hitting bat would look marvelous in the middle of the lineup. That said, he would further limit the team’s roster flexibility. By a lot. Morales is more of a DH than a first baseman at this point — he has played only 59 games at first (214 at DH) since destroying his ankle in 2010 — and with Carlos Beltran on the mend, the DH spot doesn’t figure to be open much. Beltran will reportedly return as the full-time DH because they don’t want to risk re-aggravating the bone spur in his elbow by making him throw.
Morales will no longer require forfeiting a draft pick this coming Friday, so there’s no reason not to wait these last six days before signing him. He would help the Yankees, there’s no doubt about it, but unless Beltran winds up undergoing surgery or Teixeira misses an extended amount of time and the team doesn’t care about further weakening the infield defense, it’s tough to see Morales as anything but a square peg in a round roster hole. · (47) ·
Despite some less than inspiring play, the Yankees have now won five of their last seven games. They took the second game of the weekend series against the Twins on Saturday afternoon, rallying late behind their ace for a 3-1 win. Let’s recap:
- Tanaka Time: Had it not been for some more bad infield defense, Masahiro Tanaka might have thrown eight scoreless innings or even a shutout on Saturday afternoon. Kelly Johnson booted a hard-hit ground ball to lead off the game, and the runner eventually came around to score on Josh Willingham’s two-out single to right. After that, Tanaka retired 22 of 26 batters faced, including eight on strikeouts. He allowed just the one unearned run on four singles and two walks, fanning nine and getting ten ground ball outs. Tanaka was brilliant against the Twins, just as he has for most of the season. A man among boys.
- Blown Chances: Kevin Correia came into the game with the very worst ERA in baseball (6.34), yet the Yankees let him off the hook in the first two innings. Mark Teixeira struck out and Brian McCann grounded into a double play after they loaded the bases with no outs in the first, then Brendan Ryan grounded into an inning-ending double play with two on in the second. Yangervis Solarte was also thrown out at second after foolishly trying to advance on a throw to the plate on his single in the sixth, just like Derek Jeter on Friday. Correia allowed just one run (Solarte’s solo homer) in six innings. Gross.
- Late Rally: Jacoby Ellsbury set the table for the game-winning rally in the eighth with his legs, his greatest weapon. He singled with one out in the inning, stole second, then moved to third when the throw went into center field. Brian Roberts drew a walk to put runners on the corners, and rather than hit into another inning-ending double play, McCann doubled into the right field corner to drive in a run. Johnson atoned for his error with a run-scoring single later in the inning, after a 30 or so minute rain delay. Those were some mighty big hits.
- Leftovers: David Robertson pitched around a(nother) error in the ninth by striking out the side. I love it when he does that … McCann doubled twice and is quietly hitting .268/.355/.448 in his last 20 games, dating back to the start of the Brewers series. That’s a pretty great approximation of what he can do over a full season … Solarte went 3-for-4 with the homer and has officially broken out of his slump … Brett Gardner and Johnson both singled twice, Jeter singled and doubled, and Ellsbury singled and walked … Alfonso Soriano went 0-for-3 with a rare walk … the Yankees had 4+ extra-base hits for only the second time in their last 15 games.
MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs has some other stats, and ESPN has the updated standings. These two teams will wrap up this series with the rubber game on Sunday afternoon, when Phil Hughes makes his first career start against the Yankees. Chase Whitley will be on the bump for New York. RAB Tickets can get you in the door if you want to see Hughes’ return live.
Triple-A Scranton (7-3 win over Indianapolis)
- DH Corban Joseph: 0-5
- 3B Scott Sizemore: 1-5, 1 K
- SS Zelous Wheeler: 2-4, 1 R
- C Austin Romine: 3-4, 2 R, 1 HR, 4 RBI – every once in a while he’ll do this to remind you he’s still only 25 and was pretty well regarded
- RHP Shane Greene: 6.2 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 13/1 GB/FB — 62 of 99 pitches were strikes (63%) … there we go, that’s the Shane Greene we saw last season
- RHP Danny Burawa: 2.1 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 3/1 GB/FB — 25 of 41 pitches were strikes (61%)